language & linguistics

French speakers: I need your input

You have helped me many times before with language questions. Here I am again. You’ve got a character sitting in a hotel in France writing a telegram to the U.S.  The year is 1884.

  1.  What would the telegraph office in the hotel be called (because hotels did have telegraph offices)?
  2.  How would the person write out the date and time? For example, an American at that time could write

 2 June 1884  8:00 a.m.

2nd June 1884 8 a.m.

June 2, 1884 8 am

but I’m pretty sure the time especially would be handled in a different way.

Any help much appreciated.

Off to San Diego: Linguistics

I leave tomorrow to give a paper at the University of California/San Diego. Two or three times a year I get invited to come tell people about my work in linguistics, and I always accept because it’s a way to stay in the academic loop and talk to people with similar interests and new perspectives.

This particular talk is about the way children learn stereotypes from animated film, but I’ve talked about a lot of different areas of my research, from legal issues to real estate. Really.  To give you an idea of what I’m doing this time, here’s a chart from the first edition of English with an Accent based on an analysis of characters with speaking roles in Disney animated films that came out before 1998.  Proof positive: I am an academic nerd. Click for a somewhat less fuzzy image.


Summary: Dialect in Dialogue

I came across this material while I was sorting through posts, and I thought it might be useful to those of you who are writing fiction.
mouth open

Click to watch Polar Bear on Vimeo: storytelling in the classroom

Fact: everybody has some kind of regional and social dialect.

Question: Which features indicate differences in national or regional origin; social standing; economics, for the spoken language? And how best to get them across in the written language?


Continue reading…

calling all multilinguals (updated: now with testicles)

I posted this on facebook and got a lot of good responses, but I’m going to try here as well. The scenario is this: one character tells another character that there’s a list of about ten phrases he can say in fifty different languages or dialects of languages. She doesn’t believe him, and challenges him. The sentence she chooses (of the ones on his list) is “Why did you kill your wife?”

Eventually you’ll find out what I’m doing with this.

So I need to have this sentence in every possible European and eastern European language, but here’s the important part: I can’t use school-room French or Swedish or whatever. I need vernacular, colloquial and even rude translations. Below are some of the suggestions I got through facebook (I had lots of information on Polish, Russian, etc., but I couldn’t get the software to deal with the Cyrillic alphabet). As you’ll see, some people were very specific about the geographic variety of the language in question, or about the colloquialisms. That information is  really useful.

And I really, really need different regional varieties of Italian. Sicilian, Calabrese, Neopolitan, Roman, any anything else. [update: Stephanie really delivered on this, but I’m always happy to hear more. Thanks, Stephanie!]


 ItalianColloquialPerchè hai ammazzato la tua donna?/
SalentoPerce’ hai ccisu muierda?/
RomanescoOh, ma perché hai accoppato tu moje?higher social standig than ‘romanaccio’
Salerno/CampaniaMa pcché a ccis a’ muglier’t?my family’s neck of the woods
Reggio Emilia (Emilia Romagna)Perchè et màsé to muiera?/
Valdarno/TuscanyPerché te thu l’ha ammazzatho la thu moglie?/
FlorentineO perché tu ha’ammazzaho la tu’ moglie?/
North Eastparcè atu copat to femine?/
SicilianPicchì a ttò mugghieri l’ammazzasti?/
LombardyParghé te gà mataa a la femma?Rough translation, this dialect doesn’t traditionally have a written form
SiracusePerche’ hai ucciso tua moglie?  (or)  Pichi a mazzato a ta mugieri? /
 FrenchSenegalPourquoi est-ce que tu as tué ta femme?/
colloquialPourquoi t’as tué ta femme?  (or)  Pourquoi t’as buté ta meuf?  (or) Pourquoi t’as tué ta meuf?the kind of French you might hear spoken in the slums of a big city, for example. It includes ‘verlan‘, which is a way of inversing syllables of words to create slang.
CajunFi pi tchar, pourquoi t’as tué ta femme?fi pi tchar”  the euphemism we use for “fils de putain” [“s.o.b.”]
 SpanishSpain¿Por qué mataste a tu esposa?   *see Laura’s comment below
Madrid¿Por qué mataste a tu (maldita) mujer/vieja?  maldita = damned; vieja = old lady
Madrid ‘español castizo’¿Por qué cojones te cargaste a la parienta?Both of these have a little vulgarity thrown in for good measure. They are roughly translated into “Why the fuck did you kill your woman/wife?” “Carallo” and “cojones” are both the vulgar term for testicles.
Galicia¿Por qué carallo mataste a tua mulher?/
Spanish [South America]Colombia¿Por qué mataste a tu desgraciada mujer? (or) ¿Por qué putas mataste a tu esposa?(or) ¿Por qué mataste a tu desgraciada mujer?
your ‘f-king’ wifeWhy the fuck did you kill your wife?
PortugesePortugalPor que matou sua mulher?/
CatalánCatalonia¿Pe què vas matar a la teva esposa? (or) ¿Per què va matar a la seva esposa? (or) Per què va(s) matar la teva dona?
See Stephan’s comment below
NorwegianOsloHvorfor drepte du dama di a?slang
JærskKeffor drepte du kånå di?/
small town south of OsloHvorfor drepte du gamla di?
gamla is a little disrespectful, somewhat like ‘your old lady’.   “den fordømte kjerringa di‘ = Your damn old lady
[Bokmål]Hvorfor drepte du konen din?/
Swedish SwedenVafan mördade du din sambo för? (or) Varför dödade du din fru?/
FinnishSouthern OstrobothniaMinkä tähären tapoot emäntäs? (or) Minkä tähären soot emäntäs tappanu?/
HelsinkiMiks sä tapoit emäntäs? emäntäs is an old word for wife, but it is becoming re-popularized
HelsinkiMiksi tapoit vaimosi?/
PoriMiks sää tapoit vaimos?  (or)  Miks helvetis sää tapoit vaimos?helvetis = the hell
Dutch HollandWaarom vermoorde jij je vrouw? (or) Waarom heb je je vrouw vermoord?A mild swear word for a female would be: rotwijf, kelerewijf (kelere is derived from cholera, most Dutch swear words have something to do with diseases)
GermanBaden-WuerttembergWarum haschd du dei Frau umbracht?
BerlinWarum hastn deene Olle abjemurkst?very colloquial
Swiss  [Alemannic]Warum hascht diin Wiib erschlaha? (or) Warum häschd dini frau tötet?
DutchHollandWaarom vermoorde jij je vrouw? (or) Waarom heb je je vrouw vermoord?A mild swear word for a female would be: rotwijf, kelerewijf (kelere is derived from cholera, most Dutch swear words have something to do with diseases)
DutchHollandWaarom vermoorde jij je vrouw? (or) Waarom heb je je vrouw vermoord?A mild swear word for a female would be: rotwijf, kelerewijf (kelere is derived from cholera, most Dutch swear words have something to do with diseases)
LuxembourgishFirwaat hues de deng aal Fraa embruecht?
BosnianSarajevoJebote, zasto ubi svoju zenu?literal translation would be “F@@@, why did you kill you woman?” Word “zasto” has above S alphabet small V, as it reads (sh), and is an alphabet in Bosnian/Croatian, Serbian language, but doesn’t exist in English language.
HungarianHungaryMiért ölted meg a feleséged?